Price is secondary to safety. Gear is secondary to wisdom

At the top of our Kit Review page you’ll find the above words. Words to live your life by if you’re involved in the avalanche avoidance game. But as with many things, as time moves on then the game changes.

Trying to change the avalanche game is a small American company with some very big ideas when it comes to avalanche safety. www.avatech.com are in the process of releasing their SP1 – a digital penetrometer that gives the user an instant snow profile beneath their feet without having to dig. What’s the advantage of this over digging a snow pit? – Well in two words: spacial variability. For a host of reasons snow pack structure can change – sometimes dramatically – over short distances. Avalanche forecasters try to outsmart spacial variability by choosing to dig their study pits on representative slopes to where they think an underlying issue in the snowpack might be, but this is not always as easy as it sounds. Pin pointing the correct nuance of elevation, aspect and angle, especially in a climate as challenging as the Scottish Highlands is always going to be tough. The SP1 has the potential to remove spacial variability from the forecasters stability equation by allowing the user to take literally dozens of snow profiles during the day, giving the user a feel of what’s occurring beneath their feet over an extensive area. On my Level 3 course I was drilled with the mantra of quick snow analysis: “Get in, target your layer of concern and move on – then repeat” – the ability to do this effectively is a skill in itself. The SP1 brings that doctrine to the masses.

So in itself the SP1 is a promising tool in the snow geeks toolbox. But what’s really interesting about Avatech’s promotional literature is the promise of instantly and easily crowd sourcing this information throughout the avalanche community. This isn’t a new concept – Canadian Heli Ski Lodges have been doing this for years using a closed intranet system called Info-Ex that has been hugely successful in reducing avalanche fatalities within the Canadian heli ski industry. By sharing large volumes of easily interpreted data from 100’s of SP1 readings per day could not only lead to more accurate avalanche forecasts, but also offers the hope of usable data exchanged on a peer-to-peer level for all snow sport enthusiasts in a timely manner.

There are a lot of if’s in this blog in relation to the SP1, but Avatech have certainly got the entire North American Avalanche community on board for now – just look at their partners page on their website. It’ll be interesting to see how well it travels to Europe.  – Mike Austin